A dust disease affecting the health of construction crews – and it’s not only asbestos
We all know the risks of asbestos and the debilitating lung disease caused by breathing in asbestos fibres. Indeed the media is filled with news reports and lawyers are engaged in multibillion dollar compensation claims for victims. Unfortunately there’s another lung disease that hasn’t grabbed the headlines yet. A disease that’s impacting hundreds and even thousands of construction workers. A silent disease that can have equally devastating results on construction workers as mesothelioma and asbestosis. A disease that robs people of breath, often finally causing death. Could it be as big as asbestos? We hope not, but if workers don’t take precautions it could.
More and more workers in the construction industry are being struck down by silicosis. Silicosis is a lung disease caused by breathing in silica dust. Silica dust is created when masons cut materials like concrete, masonry, sandstone and granite. The disease isn’t curable and results in permanent scarring of the lungs. Silicosis is a debilitating disease making even minor physical activity near impossible, and severe cases lead to death. For more read this report.
In the US, according to a 2015 report from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, some 2 million workers are exposed to silica dust, with the highest risks being in mining, quarrying, stonemasons, tunnelling and construction, with many of these workers facing high exposure.
A relatively new source of silica dust is the use of engineered stone kitchen bench tops and bathroom vanity slabs. According to this report engineered stone consists of 90% silica. These tops have to be cut to size and holes are cut and drilled to accommodate the installation of sinks, cooktops and plumbing fittings. Workers who aren’t aware of the risks often cut stone with no regard for the dust generated and they often work without proper breathing protection.
In Australia, where cases of silicosis have increased by 50%, new laws are being introduced to reduce the amount of dust exposure, but these probably don’t go far enough since many workers are exposed to silica dust over prolonged periods of time.
Workers need to be aware of the risks of breathing silica dust. Dust should be eliminated by employing cutting and polishing tools which suck the dust up as it’s created. Where possible wet cutting should be done. Workers must wear proper breathing masks. Masks used must be appropriate for the work and most paper masks won’t protect the wearer. Caution must be taken to ensure that people in the vicinity aren’t exposed to the dust. Put an end to clouds of dust on construction projects.
Our health and the health of our workers is important. Don’t take the chance with your life or the lives of others. Contractors who don’t implement the correct safety precautions could be exposed to multimillion dollar lawsuits from those exposed to silicosis on the worksite. Don’t let silica dust become the next asbestos. Let’s learn from the past and implement solutions to ensure the safety of our workers.
This article was first published on the ClockShark website.
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